Monday, January 16, 2017

In Which I Review Sherlock (4x3)

Now that is how you do an episode of Sherlock. Not since the unbelievably well executed season two finale has an episode of Sherlock resonated so powerfully and so satisfactorily as to be near pitch perfect. If you were to distill down in bullet point form what makes a great episode of Sherlock you would undoubtedly find every single one of those points in the season--and quite possibly series--finale, "The Final Problem." There is so much to pick apart and discuss in this week's installment; from John and Sherlock's relationship to the Holmess' family dynamic (so all the kids are absolutely nuts, right?) to the ideas of morality and whether or not a human being can live without them and still call themselves human and, maybe most importantly, whether or not sociopathy--true sociopathy--can be overturned by the simple act of having a best friend. Sherlock has never been a perfect TV show; it's often too self-indulgent with freeze frames and weird special effects meant to awe instead of move the story along. It gets too caught up in giving the rabid fan bases something to quickly reblog, retweet or turn into a smutty fanfic and it has problems of the average, run of the TV mill sort like hints of misogyny and some overt queer baiting. None of this is dismissed with a spectacular episode, which this unquestionably was, and it's always worth pulling back to examine all the messages that lay behind a rollicking good time but, honestly, problems of ego and privilege aside, didn't you just enjoy the ever loving hell out of this show from start to finish? I know I did. One last time, then. It's only elementary. Let's go!

I love when I'm right. In last week's blog, I predicted that Euros's importance wasn't so much as a threat to national security or some sort of big case-of-the-week (though both of those are equally true), but rather that her existence has been such a closely guarded secret because it was she who made Sherlock who he is. His attempts at cold indifference, at friendlessness, at emotional detachment, and even at sociopathy all stem from the secret sister he locked away in his mind palace and forgot all about. Families. Sometimes they really do suck. Euros herself is an extraordinarily interesting, if extremely terrifying, case. Her sociopathy manifests in a lot of the usual ways. Euros doesn't understand emotions; she can't tell when she's happy or sad and moreover I'm not sure sure she's capable of feeling those; she thinks that constructs of good and bad are social conditions that don't exist outside the realm of society and the impositions it imposes on the world (to be fair, she's not dead wrong). Likewise, Euros can't tell the difference between screaming and laughing and, while children are prone to fits of jealousy when they feel ostracized or neglected, not all children drown the object of their jealousy in a fit (and then proceed to mock their sibling about it with codes and songs). Euros is Sherlock with the brakes off, then. If Sherlock were to completely cut himself off from his friends and family; if he were to stop detective work as a way to not only get high but because his heart is ultimately in the right place, he'd be a perfect male form of Euros. Sherlock's emotions are his saving grace; they always have been. He clings to anything that makes him feel at least a little bit human and grounded--the cases, the small cadre of people that float around his manic and often downright asshole existence. All of these are designed, subconsciously, to keep him from becoming Euros, a person he can't even remember but who killed his best friend when he was just a lad. These things are Sherlock's identity touchstones; so long as he has them, he can continue to function. Euros does not have touchstones; these developments that occur in childhood never did for the little girl who really only wanted a friend. A foot smarter than the smartest person in the room but equally lonely, Euros never forged any sort of a connection and so acted out, deciding that morals (which she can't really understand) were for the weak and the lower creatures of the Earth. As Euros tells Sherlock in the final game, "I never had a best friend. I had no one;" this fact, surprisingly, bothers her. The lack of morals, the total disregard for human life, and the ability to turn the people around her into mindless sheep doesn't seem to strike her as anything with which to be concerned, but the fact that she never had a friend to play with does. Is Euros's sociopathy not true then? Honestly, it may not matter if Euros is a textbook sociopath or not. She's serving a different narrative purpose; she's Sherlock's foil.

Unsurprisingly, Euros and Moriarty get on like a house on fire (her words, not mine!) Moriarty is Sherlock's literary foil; every bit his equal but living a life of crime instead of solving them. They are the perfect match for each other. The one thing missing from the Holmes/Moriarty antagonistic pairing is the all powerful word that got thrown around quite a bit in this episode: family. John is family, if not blood. Mary, Rosie, Molly, Mrs. Hudson and even Lestrade are. Mycroft is, of course, family; Moriarty is not. Euros, though, is. I said up top that the person Sherlock became, his attempts at a softer high functioning sociopath, all stem from Euros; but the question is why...why would anyone want to become what Euros is? The answer, I think, is pretty simple: to avoid pain. To wit: why do junkies get high? Yes, scientifically it's because drugs are addictive but go deeper, go into the emotional reason why. It's because the thing you're addicted to--the booze, the pills, the gambling, the drugs--are all there to make the pain stop, if only for a little bit. After all, if they worked forever and negated the pain long term, there'd be no need to take another hit. Sherlock feels deeply--it's written on his face in so many instances over the years. A bomb jacket strapped to John, texts from Irene Adler, Mary Watson's death, realizing how much he's hurt Molly by forcing her to confess her love, comforting John after his best friend dissolved into tears confessing to an unseen wife, are all instances where Sherlock has been empathetic. He feels pain; he feels his own and others and it all goes back to not being able to find his little friend, Victor--his Redbeard, his first friend, his childhood best friend, an innocent little boy who was drowned in a well by Sherlock's younger sister. So much pain, so much trauma behind that memory that Sherlock did one of the most human things possible: he wrote himself a different story and became just like the person--or as near as he could--who feels no pain and could easily and clinically pass through the world where morals don't matter and people are irrational and boiled down to clever deductions. Becoming Euros was a way to mask the scars of childhood, to forge ahead and not be overwhelmed by grief. This, by the way, is where John comes in. Like calls to like and in each other they saw their pain refracted. John is always saving Sherlock and Sherlock is always saving John but not just in moments of the big denouement with bad guys at pools or waterfalls, but everyday, in every way, by the simple virtue of easing each other's pain and loneliness and giving each other the one thing Euros never had: a friend. Sometimes all we need in this world is one person who truly loves us or, you know, with whom we can solves crimes. Sherlock Holmes and John Watson found each other and that is the true beauty of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. The cases may mystify and astound but it's the relationship of Holmes and Watson that keeps us coming back. It is, as Mary says in her video post script, all about the legend of those fabulous wonderful, clever and brave Baker Street Boys.

 Miscellaneous Notes on The Final Problem

--Mycroft's umbrella doubles as a saber and a gun. I find this amusing but not at all surprising.

--"This is a family matter." "That's why John stays!"

--Even if her sociopathy could be tempered by family, Euros is without a doubt the scariest villain the show has done.

--So many good shocking moments in this episode that there were times I forgot to breath. Just to name a few: no glass on Euros's cell; Euros killing all three men--guilty and innocent--in the hangman's noose to see how it felt; Molly almost not saying "I love you" back; the plane and little girl not being "real," and Sherlock almost killing his brother.

--Moriarty goes by "Big G" now because he's "relatable that way."

--In a fabulous call back to the first episode of season one, Lestrade tells a fellow detective that Sherlock isn't a great man, "he's better than that; he's a good one."

--The final clip sees Sherlock and John running out of "Rathbone House" which is a loving tribute to Basil Rathbone who played Sherlock Holmes fourteen times over half a dozen years.

--"When all else fails there are two men sitting, arguing, in a scruffy flat like they've always been there and always will....Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson."

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